Music

Julee Cruise, Vocalist of ‘Twin Peaks’ Fame, Dies at 65

Julee Cruise, a singer who brought a memorably ethereal voice to the projects of director David Lynch – most famously “Falling,” whose instrumental version was the theme for Mr. Lynch’s cult-favorite television show, “Twin Peaks” – died on Thursday in Pittsfield, Mass. She was 65.

Her husband, Edward Grinnan, said the cause was suicide. He said she had struggled with depression as well as lupus.

Ms. Cruise was building a career off Broadway in the early 1980s when serendipity struck: She met the composer Angelo Badalamenti when they worked on a show together.

“I was in this country-and-western musical in the East Village,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1990. “I was a chorus girl with a big skirt and a big wig, singing way too loud. Angelo was doing the music for the show, and we became friends. ”

A few years later, Mr. Badalamenti was engaged by Mr. Lynch, who was still early in his career, as a vocal coach for Isabella Rossellini in the 1986 Lynch movie “Blue Velvet” and ended up writing the score for that film as well. Mr. Lynch and Mr. Badalamenti had written a song for the film that needed a vocalist.

“Angelo asked me to find someone to sing a song for the soundtrack called ‘Mysteries of Love,’ but he did not like any of the singers I recommended,” she told The Chronicle. “He wanted dreamy and romantic. I said, ‘Let me do it.’ ”

Ms. Cruise had always thought of herself as “a belter,” as she often put it (she had once played Janis Joplin in a musical revue called “Beehive”), but the voice she came up with for “Mysteries of Love” was something else entirely, enigmatic and wispy. It suited that and other Lynch-Badalamenti compositions perfectly. One writer called her style “angel-on-Quaaludes vocals.”

The three were soon collaborating on Ms. Cruise’s first album, “Floating Into the Night,” which featured songs by the two men, including “Mysteries of Love” and “Falling.” They also collaborated on a production stage called “Industrial Symphony No. 1, ”performed at the New Music America festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November 1989, with Ms. Cruise performing amid an elaborate set that included an old car.

“Often, Ms. Cruise floated far above the stage, like a prom-gowned, bleached-blond angel, ”Jon Pareles wrote in his review in The New York Times. “At one point, her body plummeted to the floor and was packed into the car’s trunk by helmeted workmen; later, she re-emerged to face a video camera and sing ‘Tell your heart it’s me,’ as 10 chorus girls in gold lamé danced next to her image on television screens. “

National exposure came the following April when “Twin Peaks” premiered on ABC, with an instrumental version of “Falling” serving as its theme. Ms. Cruise appeared in the pilot and subsequent episodes as a roadhouse singer.

The show quickly became the talk of television, and in May 1990 it led to an appearance by Ms. Cruise on “Saturday Night Live.” She wasn’t in the original lineup, but the controversial comic Andrew Dice Clay (he called himself “the most vulgar, vicious comic ever to walk the face of the earth”) was the scheduled host, which led to protests from at least one cast member, Nora Dunn, who refused to appear in that episode, and caused the original musical guest, Sinead O’Connor, to drop out at the last minute.

Ms. Cruise was one of two acts summoned to replace her. Mr. Grinnan said in a telephone interview that Ms Cruise, who was still not well known, was working as a waitress at the time and had to skip out on her job. But, he noted, she did not call in sick.

“She said that she called in famous,” he said.

Though “Twin Peaks” brought Ms. Cruise wide exposure, Mr. Grinnan said she found a stint touring with the B-52’s in the 1990s to be particularly enjoyable. She replaced Cindy Wilson, an original member, when Ms. Wilson took a break from the band.

“It was probably the happiest performing of her life,” Mr. Grinnan said.

Julee Ann Cruise was born on Dec. 1, 1956, in Creston, Iowa, to Wilma and Dr. John Cruise. Her father was a dentist, and her mother was his office manager.

Ms. Cruise was something of a musical prodigy on the French horn, her husband said, and received a music degree in the instrument from Drake University in Iowa. He said she had applied the delicacy and phrasing of classical French horn to the voice she came up with for the Lynch projects.

But once she graduated, she thought that acting and singing would be more appealing than playing in an orchestra. She went to Minneapolis, a good city for theater, and spent several years performing with the Children’s Theater Company there before moving to New York in about 1983.

After “Twin Peaks,” Ms. Cruise made another album with Mr. Lynch and Mr. Badalamenti, “The Voice of Love” (1993). She also continued acting. Mr. Grinnan said it was her performance in an Off Broadway musical, “Return to the Forbidden Planet,” in 1991 that caught the attention of the B-52’s. Mel Gussow, reviewing that show for The Times, said she stood out.

“Only Julee Cruise invigorates the show with musical personality,” he wrote. “Well remembered for her singing on ‘Twin Peaks,’ she is spunky as well as amusing, although the script unwisely keeps her offstage for most of the first act.”

Ms. Cruise later toured with Bobby McFerrin and worked with electronic musicians like Marcus Schmickler. In 2003 she fulfilled a longtime goal of performing at the Public Theater in New York when she was cast in the musical “Radiant Baby,” about the graffiti artist Keith Haring.

It was a demanding assignment. As The Times wrote, she played “Andy Warhol, Haring’s mother, a demonic nurse and a critic who resembles Susan Sontag.”

Which of the roles was most difficult, a reporter asked?

“The costume changes,” she said. “I’m the oldest person in this cast.”

Ms. Cruise alternated between homes in Manhattan and the Berkshires. In addition to her husband, whom she married in 1988, she is survived by a sister, Kate Coen.

Ms. Cruise reprised her “Twin Peaks” role in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” Mr. Lynch’s 1992 film, and, a quarter-century later, in an episode of Showtime’s reboot of the TV series. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 2017, she reflected on her long “Twin Peaks” ride.

“It was so much fun to be part of something that just went ba-boom!” she said. “You did not know it was going to do that. What a nice surprise life takes you on. ”

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